This is the year Au Revoir Simone ‘turned it around’. How? They wrote a new album
If you’d prefer a less ruthless alternative to 50 Cent’s self-help book The 50th Law (and you should, or you’re going straight to hell) you could do worse than to cast an eye over the trajectory of Au Revoir Simone. Living just up the road from Mr. Cent, they’ve risen steadily to a rather enviable point in their career rather than falling from day two and leaving the ‘infinitely shit’ milestone way back in the distance. By ‘rather enviable point’ we mean they’ve released a third album, a luxury not afforded by many indie bands who seem to disintegrate into side projects, give up or go Hollywood before reaching number three. Being given the time to grow has done the band a whole lot of good as ‘Still Night, Still Light’ is by far and away their best effort so far, something we at Loud and Quiet, and (go us!) David Lynch have been waffling on about since its release this summer. The advice you should take from all this, of course, is to continue to patiently do what you do best, constantly improve and one day you might sell-out the Union Chapel.
The audience later are enraptured in a mood of quiet awe that’s encouraged by the seated-in-pews arrangement and the, well, churchy surroundings. But it’s taken a while for England to open its arms to this band. Keen tea drinkers, their bubble was promptly burst on their first few pond-crossing experiences.
“I was an Anglophile when I was younger, before I came,” remembers Heather D’Angelo “and then we had a series of many shitty shows here.”
“And, like, always in the worst weather,” adds band-mate Erika Foster.
Heather: “Remember Camden!?”
“Oh Camden!” says Erika. “This was before we realised that you could have the drum beats on a sampler and so we just had them on an iPod.”
Not sure where the beat started, the girls attempted to play the second album’s ‘Night Majestic’ twice.
“So, we said, ‘Third times a charm, right?'” recalls Erika “and some guy yelled out ‘No!'”
“Oh yeah, then when we were touring with We Are Scientists,” adds Simone number 3, Annie Hart “people were throwing stuff and I thought, ‘Oh, they’re trying to give us presents!’ and then I read on a blog, ‘those idiots thought we were being nice to them, we wanted them off the stage!’
“And we were just getting the worst writers backstage and ten people at each show and we were like, ‘Why the fuck are we here? Why are we here!?'”
After a slow start they’ve now built up something of a cult following thanks in part to a more assured stage show and promotion from the BBC for their latest album. Emanating a sweet, teddy-bear-in-the-rain sort of melancholia, and avoiding the twee moments that crop up on past outings, their latest is 45 minutes of crystalline synth pop, so lacking in filler that it bewitches from start to finish. It’s not as though winter has set in on the band but rather that these darker shades were always what they had in mind.
“I think the problem with the first two records,” says Annie “is that we had a vision in our heads for how the songs were going to sound but we were never able to achieve that because we didn’t have the technical know-how. We finally made the leap this time ’cause we had a bit more money to hire a producer – Tom Monahan – and it’s a lot closer to what we had imagined in our heads, how the first two albums should’ve sounded.”
“The mood of it is darker,” says Heather “but I think maybe the darks are darker and the lights are also lighter. There’s more contrast, more of an emotional range. No one died or anything.”
While putting the album together in LA though, Heather came pretty close. “You know in Annie Hall,” she says “Woody Allen, every time he goes to LA, he gets sick? I’m totally like Woody Allen. I can’t get anywhere near LA without feeling faint or just having to leave immediately”
“We were at CBS at two in the morning,” remembers Annie “trying to get you Asthma medication, we spent $300 – because of our healthcare system – buying fucking inhalers and she was all red and swollen.”
Heather: “I almost died! I was laid out in the back of the car and it was as though I was breathing through a coffee straw, my lungs had gotten to the point of being so, so constricted. Our producer has nine cats and he kept saying that it was the Santa Anna winds and I was like, ‘No, it’s your nine cats!'”
The rest of their time in the city seems to have passed by like some California dream, driving around in the sun and going over to David Lynch’s place, having struck up a friendship with the filmmaker after appearing at the same book launch.
“We’ve been able to hang out with him a bit,” says Annie “and he’s really inspiring. It’s so funny cause we used to watch his movies together in the tour van. I remember one time we watched the entire Twin Peaks series on Heather’s iPod. It was back before the screens were big so it was just this tiny two-by-two inch screen. Now we’ll go over to his house and he’ll order us egg-salad sandwiches and talk to us about the history of LA. It feels more like going to visit a family member who we only get to see once a year rather than this crazy, demented filmmaker, you know?”
Attention then turns to the forthcoming show and the pretty impressive surroundings.
“This place is so beautiful,” says Erika. “I love it – it sounds so good. We’ve certainly played our fair share of dive-y places and some of those shows have been really awesome, but we keep finding ourselves in these really grand buildings.”
It’s a move by their booking agent that’s paid off – the church even has a piano and so some keyboard parts are transferred ad hoc (unlike most electronic acts, their parts are un-sequenced, relying instead on good, old fashioned technical proficiency). At one point both Erika and Annie sit together on a flight case to hammer away at the ivories like something from a radically updated Jane Austen period drama. Much is made of this disarming, ‘girly’ aspect of the band and there are a number of very smitten faces in the crowd. It’s an issue the trio refreshingly refuse to make an issue out of.
“I’m a huge feminist,” says Annie. “I even majored in women’s studies but we’re not doing this for the girl power side of things. I feel like, at this stage, by walking rather than talking, being a role model in that way, you’re doing more for women and for the music scene in general. I would kinda like to be included in the cannon of female musicians in history but that’s maybe a little ambitious.”
“Delia Derbyshire is one of my heroes,” says Heather “as are The Roches, and I think if it weren’t for the Liz Fairs and PJ Harveys of the world and Bjork, if we didn’t have the women that came before us I think it would be really difficult to do what we’re doing now. We might be forgotten but it would be pretty nice if when we’re all dead someone said ‘Oh there was a little band, Au Revoir Simone.'”
Originally published in issue 11 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2009